“Coal Creek Troubles”


"My song is founded on the truth, In poverty we stand. How hard the millionaire will crush Upon the laboring man." The governor of Tennessee sends convicts to work the mines of Coal Creek. The miners oppose, but the legislature will not help


The Coal Creek War had a long and disturbing history. Conditions at Coal Creek were terrible, as the deaths in 1902 and 1911 disasters show. Beginning in 1877, the state of Tennessee chose to relieve its shortage of prisons by putting miners to work in the Coal Creek mines. Many died, but the owners didn't care; convicts were cheap. At the time, there were enough jobs at other mines, so the miners didn't care much either.

In 1891, things turned ugly as the owners tried to deny the miners the right to choose their own check-weighmen. The miners struck; they were evicted from their homes and more convicts brought in. The miners peacefully freed the convicts and tried to convince governor "Buck" Buchanan to negotiate.

Buchanan made the worst possible choice: Force, but not sufficient force. He gathered a small escort of militia, came to Coal Creek, tried to argue with the miners, was refuted, then departed. He left the militia -- but they were only three companies, not enough to do any good. The miners forced them to surrender.

Buchanan sent more and more troops until the miners finally surrendered in October 1892. Buchanan failed of re-election, and eventually the convict labor system was abolished. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1891-1892 -- Coal Creek War.

Cross references


  • Old Charlie,' "Coal Creek Rebellion" (AFS 12012, 1940)
  • Jilson Setters, [pseud. for James W. Day] "Coal Creek Troubles" (AFS 1017, 1937) [Note: This was Thomas's source. - PJS]
  • G. D. Vowell, "Coal Creek War" (AFS 1381, 1937)


  1. Thomas-Makin', pp. 192-194, (no title) (1 text)
  2. Green-Miner, p. 155-157, "Coal Creek Troubles" (4 texts, 1 tune)
  4. BI, ThBa192


Author: James W. Day ("Jilson Setters")?
Earliest date: 1937 (recording, Jilson Setters)
Found in: US(Ap)